A strange time to become a cricket tragic

I get some very odd, disbelieving looks when I talk enthusiastically about the current Ashes series, the Australian mens team, and how much I’m enjoying it all.

Admittedly, I’m a newcomer to the joys of cricket in general – and test cricket in particular – having only just discovered it in the past year. Two years ago I would have told you that watching or following five days of sport that may end up in no win for either side was a horrific waste of time.

Now, I get it.

The tactics, the drama, the stamina, the history, the rivalry, the vagaries of the weather, sleepless nights when the game’s on the other side of the world, the loony crowd and often even loonier commentators… It all adds to the appeal.

I hear and read so much commentary about how dire Australia is; how they’ll never regain their glory days; but then again they’re not as bad as many had predicted; how 2020 has killed the game and should be abolished (can’t agree more! horrid Americanized tripe); that the selectors should just pick a top six batting order and stick to it, and then again they should keep rotating players until each is proven worthy; that Clarke is the best captain we’ve had for years, and then that he’s lucky the current team is so shite or he’d never be picked as captain, and then that he’s a power hungry gambler with our national pride…

It only adds to my obsession.

Those decades of dominance just didn’t interest me in all. Where was the intrigue, the challenge, the drama if no one could match our team and put on a decent show? Frankly, it was just uninteresting. (I’m not dismissing the greatness of the achievement of our boys! But was it entertaining? Not to me.)

The topsy turvy Ashes series of the last decade caught my attention to some extent – if only because in 2004 I married an Englishman who’d spent his younger days playing cricket – and suddenly the outcome meant so much more. The heart stopping 2005 series registered a tiny sliver of interest in my consciousness and every subsequent series has brought another chance for one or other of us to gloat – this connection having outlived our marriage as it happens. Aah, the joys of sport!

But I believe I have to thank ABC Grandstand and my decision to take a break from life last year – seven months travelling Australia with ABC Local Radio as my main connection to the outside world – for turning me onto the joys of test cricket.

Sitting in my van late 2012 at my temporary caravan park home address in central Vic, making countless job applications and always with the radio on in the background, it was Michael Clarke’s extraordinary multi-century batting achievements that first captured and intrigued me.

Every now and then I’d go and check out the TV coverage in the camp kitchen; but there was a creepy guy there most of the time who I didn’t like talking to, and the players didn’t look remotely as good in person as they did in my head! Plus the TV commentary was (and still is!) absolutely dire. Give me the extraordinary company of verbose international ex-cricketers and experts you find on ABC Grandstand alongside  our Aussie staples like Maxwell, Morphett, O’Keeffe, Alderman and Lawson any day!

(I’ve now found a happy medium in my new home – TV on but muted, ABC Grandstand giving me 5 seconds lead on the visuals, and I’m getting used to those faces now) .

The back to back Ashes series is clearly well timed in terms of capitalising on my emerging obsession. To be honest, before the start of the first test I was wondering how excited I could get, given the predictions of a 10-0 drubbing. I was so not looking forward to the gloating…

Then Ashton Agar turned everything, and everyone, upside down. It was just what the game needed. Moments like that make cricket, and galvanise the troops. His near-ton when Australian seemed all but gone, Hughes’ mature and unswerving support of the man on debut, and the almost palpable raising of spirits of the team and all the Aussie supporters – it was almost magical. I knew then I was hooked, and suspect it’s got me for life now.

True, there probably haven’t been as many of these “moments” as most of us Aussies would like in the rest of the series. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them when they’ve come along – especially Rogers’ exciting and hard fought maiden ton at last, and Harris’ dominant bowling with stumps flying left right and centre (and in a twisted kind of way, even Broad’s reply with his own devastating bowling was exciting) and finally an opening Aussie partnership where both players had put on their batting pants that morning.

I don’t claim there hasn’t been pain. But isn’t that what it’s all about? The pain makes the pleasure – when it comes – all the sweeter. And it will come. I have absolute faith in that.

This difficult phase is just what the team needs. And just what Aussie supporters need too, frankly I think some have just gotten too cocky. A bit of humble pie is necessary every now and then. It shouts out a challenge to improve, to grow, to learn and to come out stronger at the other end.

I honestly believe a turn around is on the way. And I’m so looking forward to being a part of it now that I’ve dived headlong into the Aussie cricket family.